Thursday, July 29, 2010


I don't know what's more frightening - that "frank petta ems" was used as a search term or that "frank petta ems" was a search term for TWO different people?!

From the traffic report on this webpage via Google Analytics:

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Five years later...

This article was written two years ago: In it, EMS' plight in securing a new home following Hurricane Katrina was addressed. Back then, EMS was responding to "700 calls" a week. That number has increased greatly, yet New Orleans EMS is still operating from two trailers in a parking lot under a bridge. Employees are still dodging trash thrown from the bridge, there's nowhere near enough space for parking, supply storage or even washing the ambulances.
Now, call volume has required the purchase of additional ambulances and sprint vehicles, taking up more already scarce space, yet EMS is still relegated to their position of "trolls hiding under the bridge." There is talk of new headquarters on City Park Avenue, but little or no progress has been made toward moving there. How long will one of the city's most vital components be ignored and have to "make do," especially in view of the scads of unoccupied territory everywhere in the city? Everyone understands that New Orleans' city budget is tight, yet every firehouse and police station has been rebuilt, renovated or relocated, but the red-headed stepchild of emergency services remains barely an afterthought in the grand scheme of things.
Repost this, tweet it on Twitter, write an email or letter to your city councilperson, spread it on Facebook... whatever. Help to spread the word and get those that will help you and your loved ones in a crisis a decent headquarters.
It's a damn shame.

Monday, July 05, 2010

EMS Gets a Little Recognition - Especially "portly, balding Chris Martinez"

This makes me proud to have spent the last twenty years working with Martinez, Schlumbrecht, Frezel, Petta and ALL the medics of New Orleans EMS! It's not for just anybody...

City's EMS teams handle life and death on the streets of New Orleans

Published: Monday, July 05, 2010, 5:59 AM     Updated: Monday, July 05, 2010, 9:19 AM
The paramedics heard the call from two different points in the city.
ems-gurney.JPGParamedics prepare to transport Chester Reeder after he was shot in the head in Algiers on May 24, 2009.
Chris Martinez and Scott Schlumbrecht were cruising the streets in an ambulance near the Crescent City Connection.
Dave Frezell and Frank Petta were standing on the porch at EMS headquarters -- two trailers in a parking lot under the bridge -- when the radio emergency line crackled to life.
"Male down, 34S." It was a shooting near the corner of Ptolemy Street and L.B. Landry Avenue in Algiers. Next came "Code 3," a life-threatening emergency. Then, the orders: Wait for police to secure the scene, but get in position.
"Crap," Petta said. "We gotta go."

Petta and Frezell hopped into separate sport utility vehicles, blared their sirens, turned right on Calliope Street and barreled toward the bridge's on-ramp. Petta quickly hit 70 mph. Some cars deftly shifted out of his path. Others were perilously slow to do so.
Schlumbrecht and Martinez, slightly ahead, drove the ambulance.

Six minutes later, the rescuers approached the intersection, not knowing exactly what they might see.
Working as an emergency medical responder in New Orleans, the country's most murderous city, is not for the faint of heart. The city's paramedics are like MASH doctors in wartime. Sometimes their patients suffer a heart attack or a stroke. But far too often, paramedics are rolling out on a shooting or stabbing, where the victim's chances of making it depend on how well the EMS team does its job. It's a hugely stressful line of work, and one that brings with it constant reminders of man's capacity for cruelty.
'Save him, y'all'
The four medics sailed through a mob of people drawn from a nearby second-line parade to the crime scene by the gunshots, flashing lights, and yellow crime scene tape put up by police officers.
Frezell and Petta put on latex gloves and fetched equipment from their trunks. Martinez and Schlumbrecht grabbed a stretcher and spine board from the ambulance.
The victim, in a white T-shirt and blue jeans, lay unconscious, face-up atop a rusty storm drain. He had been shot once in the head. Blood covered his face. It mixed and clumped in with dry grass in his dreadlocks.
The paramedics rushed out with the spine board, the stretcher and an electric heart monitor. A crowd of spectators in quiet conversation watched them. Police officers implored them to back up. One woman, her voice shaky, called out, "Save him, y'all."
Martinez jogged to the man's feet. He pulled a pair of scissors from a belt holster and snipped off the victim's jeans and T-shirt. Martinez spared the man's boxers because hundreds of strangers surrounded him. He ran his eyes down the man's legs, torso and arms but saw no wounds apart from the gunshot wound to his head.
The man's toned stomach rose and fell slowly. Frezell pressed his fingertips on the man's wrists. "He has a pulse," he said.
The man was alive, but he had lost a lot of blood. His breathing was slowing. They had to hurry. If he was to live through the next hour or two, the four paramedics needed to carry out a frantic but crucial process in less than 10 minutes to stabilize him. Then, they had to whisk him to an emergency room six miles away.
"Let's load him and go," Martinez said.
Petta ran to the ambulance to prepare a thin breathing tube. Frezell strapped on a dark blue brace that immobilized the man's spine. Schlumbrecht grabbed the man's side and gingerly rolled him to the left. Frezell and Martinez checked his back for bullet holes but found none.
All three slid the spine board under the man and gently rested him on it. They snapped the yellow board onto the stretcher and wheeled it under the tape, past the growing crowd.
A bright red bubble suddenly emerged from the man's mouth and popped. Blood sprayed onto his closed eyelids.

A woman watching gasped. She said, "Oh Lord, he's dead."
The man's arms dangled. His head lolled to the left. Blood pooled in his right ear.
A trembling voice called out to the rescuers once more: "Save him, y'all."
Frantic, yet controlled, activity
Martinez -- portly, his dark head of hair balding -- placed a plastic shield over his own face when he boarded the ambulance bay, occupied already by his three colleagues and the stretcher.
ems-chester-reeder.JPGParamedics work on Chester Reeder, who was shot in the head after a second line in Algiers on May 24, 2009. They stabilized Reeder and rushed him to a hospital, but he died two days later.
He shut the door behind him. The murmur of the crowd disappeared. It was replaced with the ripping of plastic and paper equipment wrappers.
The smells outside -- barbecue, beer and grass -- gave way to the smells of sweat, rubbing alcohol and latex.
Martinez kneeled at the wounded man's head and prepared to slide the breathing tube into his trachea. But blood in the man's mouth choked him and blocked Martinez's view.
Martinez reached for a catheter and suctioned out some blood. He tried sliding the breathing tube in again but the man gagged, nearly vomiting into Martinez's mask.
"He's still choking on his blood," Schlumbrecht offered.
Martinez pressed a stethoscope against the man's chest. "I know. It's all up in there," he said. He reached for the catheter and suctioned out more blood.
Schlumbrecht placed the heart monitor's leads on the victim's left bicep and right pectoral muscle. They registered a beat. As the monitor emitted an unnerving beep every three seconds, the man's stomach rose and fell, rose and fell.
Frezell sat on a bench seat to the right of the stretcher. Martinez's suction hose, wine red, wrapped around his right arm and across his chest like a bandolier.
Not bothered, Frezell wound a band tightly around the man's right upper bicep. A vein bulged. He slid a needle and catheter in and removed the needle. He then started an intravenous saline drip -- to compensate for the blood the victim had spilled on the street -- and secured it with adhesive tape.
Petta mirrored Frezell's actions across the stretcher. When they were done, they peeled off their bloodstained gloves and ducked under the bevy of tubes to the side door and out of the cramped quarters.
Back in the bay, Martinez slid the breathing tube in. The patient's stomach jutted out abruptly, and he gagged. But Martinez didn't remove the tube. He slowly slid it further down. The patient didn't resist, and Martinez announced, "Good. We're good."
Schlumbrecht jumped out of the back doors and hopped into the driver's seat. Martinez attached the breathing tube's tip to a bag connected to a pump. He handed it to a New Orleans firefighter who had climbed aboard to provide help.
"Hold on to this. Just squeeze the pump for me every few seconds," Martinez instructed. He flipped a wall switch. Air whooshed through the tube.
"Scotty, we can go! Let's go!" Martinez shouted.
Schlumbrecht backed out. Martinez radioed doctors at Interim LSU Public Hospital to brief them about the new patient.
Seven minutes after the ambulance arrived at the scene, it was headed to the emergency room.
'Damn. That's the guy I worked on'
Five days later, Martinez, 44, threw a copy of the newspaper onto his kitchen table. After pouring himself his morning cup of coffee, he sat down and perused the headlines.
"Man dies two days after being shot" grabbed his attention. A paragraph detailing the location of the shooting then jumped out: the corner of L.B. Landry and Ptolemy, near a second-line parade on May 24, 2009.
"Damn," Martinez muttered. "That's the guy I worked on."
Unless paramedics specifically ask emergency room staff about patients they care for, they rarely learn their fate. They often don't even catch the name of the victim or his exact age during the frantic race to the emergency room, unless they handle the paperwork.
Martinez and Petta had worked to save three shooting victims, two of them 15 and one 18, the night before they worked on the 25-year-old on Ptolemy Street. Martinez didn't know any of their names.
The weekend before that, Martinez tried to help two shooting victims: Devin Goines, 23, at the corner of North Broad and Duels streets, and Qian R. Sabatier, 26, at a bar in the 8500 block of Hickory Street. Both died.
Typically, if patients' names and ages don't make the news, it means they survived. The New Orleans Police Department doesn't release the names of shooting survivors, and the coroner's office can identify only homicide victims.
Martinez read on. The young man he tried to save was Chester Reeder III, who made a living in Houston but was in town briefly to visit his mom and kid sister for the Memorial Day holiday. He died at 6:29 p.m. two days after the shooting.
"Two days," Martinez thought. "At least his friends and family had two days."
He folded the newspaper and set it aside. He wished he hadn't read it.
A nightmarish scene
Longtime paramedics say those who can shake the images of shattered skulls and bloody bodies -- and suppress their revulsion at the culture of violence that feeds the carnage -- have the best chance at a career in New Orleans EMS.
Those who are haunted by what they see, or who turn to alcohol or drugs to dull the pain, don't last.
Martinez doesn't talk much about his job. At family gatherings, his relatives can't stomach the few stories he does share.
"I don't want to hear no more," they often say, almost immediately after he begins one.
Generally, he just tries not to think about work during his free time. If he did, he'd go crazy.
He was called out in March, for instance, to one of the most gruesome crime scenes in memory -- an Upper 9th Ward home where a 25-year-old mother and her 7-year-old daughter, 4-year-old son and 17-year-old sister had been fatally shot, allegedly by a relative.
There was little for Martinez to do but connect the leads of a heart monitor to their corpses and watch as a doctor pronounced them dead.
As he drove away from the nightmarish scene, he was troubled. "Even animals don't do s--t like this," he thought.
But he said he was able to "let it go" by the end of his shift.
"Seeing those kids shot was horrendous," said Martinez, a paramedic for 18 years. "But I can't spend time trying to make sense of it. ... I couldn't do this job otherwise. No one could."
In a career where he routinely works on the victims of suicide, shootings and car accidents, he has never seen a trauma counselor.
"It must be something that's built into you," Martinez shrugs. He knows some may be confounded by his seeming ability to erase human tragedies from his thoughts. It puzzles even him.
When his grandparents died in 2008 and 2009, Martinez could not cry. He was sad, even depressed. But he simply could not cry.
Several weeks later, Martinez's husky, Sheba, died from a seizure.
The hardened paramedic sobbed for days. He couldn't explain it, even to himself.
"I guess animals, especially dogs, have unconditional love," Martinez said. "That's hard to find in human beings."

Ramon Antonio Vargas can be reached at or 504.826.3371.